An Introduction to the Gospels
An Introduction to the Gospels
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For any of the major religions of the world, the history of that religion and its key players typically form the theological framework for that religion. Indeed, Christianity is no exception, for it is the life, death, resurrection, ministry and miracles of Jesus Christ, as depicted in the New Testament of the Holy Bible which forms the core of what has become one of the most widely followed religions in the history of the world (Blomberg, 1997).
The Gospel According to Matthew
For the modern Biblical scholar, the Gospel of Matthew is the first that is named when one runs through the names of the New Testament gospels, and this is no accident, as Matthew’s gospel is generally recognized as the first written, most likely around 50 A.D. (Perrin, et al, 1982).
As with all of the great documents of the history of humanity, the writings of the apostle Matthew are especially compelling and relevant due to the fact that as an individual, Matthew is believed to have been a tax collector by profession, whose religious conversion and undying belief in Jesus Christ as lord and savior gives credibility to his accounts of Jesus. As an ordinary man, Matthew seems to have gained a level of secular success in his collection of taxes from those who owed them, but without the intervention of Jesus in his life, it would seem that Matthew would be an incomplete being. In the words of a leading Biblical scholar in regard to Matthew’s transformation from a man of the world to a man of God, ”performance without Godly presence is worthless” (Blomberg, 1997, p.66). It is with the background and credentials of Matthew firmly in mind that it is possible to fully discuss and explore the text of Matthew’s gospel.
The initial chapters of Matthew are essentially setting the stage for the depiction of Jesus Christ as a divine being in subsequent chapters of Matthew as well as the gospels to follow. As chapter 1 begins, a description of the genealogy of Jesus, reaching back 14 generations, is presented. Through this lineage, the link of Jesus back to the royal house of David and Abraham is established, but at this point, the reader is still unaware that Jesus is anything but a human being with an impressive lineage. It is in the chapters that follow where the establishment of Jesus as the divine son of God take place; a frequently paraphrased passage from Matthew 1:18-21, taken from the New American Bible, which succinctly summarizes the divine nature of Jesus is quoted exactly as follows:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins”.
It is from this holy birth that Jesus comes into the world; Matthew’s gospel tells of the efforts of king Herod to find the baby Jesus and have him killed due to the possible challenge that Jesus’ power would pose to Herod’s authority. From this point, this gospel does not provide details of the childhood of Jesus, but resumes its depiction of the early life of Jesus with his encounter of John the Baptist and Jesus’ acceptance of the sacrament of baptism from John, showing that Jesus still retained his humanity despite his divine nature. It is also in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus first resisted the temptations of Satan and eventually convinced Simon Peter and Andrew to become his first 2 disciples (Perrin & Duling, 1982).
While a detailed account of Matthew could fill many more pages than allowed in this research, suffice to say that in addition to what has already been discussed, this gospel also contains the immortal words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ reiteration of the importance of the Ten Commandments and accounts of many of Jesus’ healing miracles. Also in this gospel is an account of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, bringing the story of his amazing life and divinity full circle (Blomberg, 1997).
The Gospel According to Mark
Chronologically following Matthew in the New Testament is the gospel according to Mark, around 65 A.D(Perrin & Duling 1982). Accounts link Mark as a friend of Simon Peter, who in fact is given the name Peter by Jesus himself , as related in Mark 3:16. While Mark is the shortest of the gospels, the false impression should not be given that it is a gospel which lacks substance, for as it will now be discussed, this gospel is densely packed with a great deal of relevant accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry and actions.
The gospel of Mark is divided into 7 sections, each of which spans a particular area of the history of Jesus, as it were. As Mark begins, there are quotations from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and John the Baptist, both of whom prophesize the coming of Jesus Christ, as such:
“Even as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way (Mark 1:3)…..And he (John the Baptist) preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose (Mark 1:7).
With such a prominent message predicting the coming of Jesus, Mark’s gospel continues by telling of the miracles Jesus performed, chief among them in this gospel being the miracle of loaves and fishes, whereby Jesus fed thousands of hungry people from a meager supply of just a few loaves of bread and small fish. Additionally, in an abbreviated version, Mark also tells of the ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel According to Luke
Following Mark is the gospel of Luke, which is estimated to have been authored somewhere around 70 A.D. (Perrin & Duling, 1982). Luke is generally known to have been an associate of the apostle Paul and also the author of the Book of Acts, which followed the gospels in the New Testament. Organized into 8 sections, this gospel, like the ones that came before it, tells of the life, miracles and ministry of Jesus Christ (Blomberg, 1997).
After a somewhat detailed account of the birth of Jesus, the gospel of Luke tells of one of the pivotal moments in both the secular and sacred life of Jesus- the 40 days he spent in the desert, tempted by Satan at every turn and resisting the allure of evil at every turn as well. One quote from Luke, courtesy of the New American Bible, speaks volumes of the sacrifices and temptations Jesus fought at that time:
“And Jesus answered and said unto him (Satan), It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
Additionally, in this gospel, the story is relayed whereby Jesus chose the 12 original apostles and unto them he granted many favors, such as fishing nets bursting to the top with almost more fish than they could realistically handle, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. With these men, Jesus embarked on the most significant years of his ministry. One of the major homilies that Jesus delivered during this time can be found in the 11th chapter of Luke, whereby Jesus taught his followers the words that would in time become known as the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer, a prayer which is in fact to this day one of the main devotions of Christianity (Perrin & Duling, 1982).
Ultimately, the gospel of Luke ends with some of the most inspirational words relaying the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, as evidenced from this New American Bible quotation:
“Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words” (Luke 24:5-8).
The Gospel According to John
Generally believed to have been authored around 85 A.D., the gospel of John varies from its predecessors in that it is more of a gospel of broad spiritual themes rather than specific historical accounts of Jesus Christ (Perrin & Duling, 1982). John, another of the original 12 apostles, identifies himself as the author within the text of the gospel itself, and is likewise written from John’s firsthand perspective.
Organized into 21 chapters, John’s gospel plunges into significant spiritual content beginning with chapter 2, which tells the tale of Jesus’ conversion of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana. Taking a quotation from the New American Bible of this tale reveals an important parable of Jesus:
“Every man setteth on first the good wine; and when men have drunk freely, then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10).
In other words, Jesus is in fact the true messiah, coming to the world after a long list of false prophets.
Two other important spiritual messages in John’s gospel is the telling of the tale of Jesus’ saving of the adulteress from those who would so quickly judge and execute her before considering the fact that they themselves were likewise sinners and rising of Lazarus from the dead, which was one of Jesus’ methods of showing that he came in order to defeat death and bring a new life to the people of the world (Blomberg, 1997). The gospel concludes with Jesus telling his apostles to always make sure to “feed his sheep”, the parable equivalent of sending the original twelve forward to preach the word of God and to make sure that the world would never forget who Jesus is and for what he stands.
Thousands of years after their writing, the original gospels have been translated into a multitude of languages and versions. Whichever version one follows, what is never lost in translation for the faithful is the eternal power of the words, deeds and presence of Jesus Christ as the true son of God.
Blomberg, C.L. (1997). Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.
Perrin, N., & Duling, D. C. (1982). The New Testament, an Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
The Complete Bible: An American Translation (1939)(Smith, J. M. & Goodspeed, E. J., Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.